The Carpenter Letters by John Barron

I am proud to present a series of poems by John Barron inspired by reflections on Edward Carpenter and the project:

Ed, yes, I’ve had gifts before from gentlemen like you,

organ grinders all, a silver cigarette case,

a fob watch with a brassy gleam,

once my first taste ever, Muscat Grapes,

most sent back to Da and gone into the river of drink.

You gave me things I couldn’t pawn,

that blue, blue gaze, each dip and fold of you.

I feel you fast like a knot in my guts,

dark stain in my gullet down into the pit of me.

It’s flight, precarious aye, for we’ve all feet of clay,

but I envisage also we occupy beyond flesh

uncharted territories of air. Just trust this time.

Nothing to hold on to. Truth is, we’re all falling.

Yes, I remember, life without you is very long.

The double bed, my thanks, we fell together,

your mouth and my mouth, your noble legs,

the heather and gritstone ridge of them.

But I’m a razor grinder, so please excuse

the fewness of these lines. I really can’t say.

I looked into The Blue Ball and saw for myself

just more of this, beer slopping over onto the bar,

the fights, men trying to drink themselves to peace,

her still breathing beside me night after night,

so this letter comes to you from another land,

where I collapsed and am free to enjoy.

I’d thought myself not me at all, part

of some weighty immovable thing, but I splintered,

became a flint arrowhead aimed at America.

I bear still the marks of your napping.

So now I love not one but another

and another and not just a woman neither,

and see for the first time morning sunlight streak

the wood smoke curled like a question mark.


Make do and mend. I can garden, cook, hunt,

patch, wind a bit of tape around, put a nail in

and keep out the wet for yet another year.

Porridge and old clothes, a cup of tea and sunshine,

dirt under the fingernails, the wind and leaves at play

smiling, the wolves and bears folded under the bed.

Have a drink and keep a lid on that ache in the side.

Life moves on it must, we were just good friends.

Knowing him was like opening some hidden door.

My boots lie by it were they always were, waiting.

Did any of it hurt? Hell no, I didn’t say

a word, I didn’t say a word like love

gone, but I’m grateful to have known and grateful

for small and now say in spite of thank you thank you.

Even as you fell, your eyes looked up undefeated.

For want of you I took on last night.

I live in that moment of silence after the crash,

when a swarm of dust lifts then lands reconfigured,

though as if nothing had been disturbed at all.

I cared about your corners, even the webbed places,

the distemper and flaking paint.

Something shone through from behind,

outstretched wings of a garuda, a corona

half-concealed, blue lotus around the lingam.

The stain of your watery soul rose like vapour

from around the green and puddled bedstone.

I console myself there is still sky, sunlight.

I cared. I cared about all of it.

Carpenter wakes from a life review, pops out his head,

fresh from the hell realms of Victorian Leeds.

Surprised not to be alive in the land of the gods

he shakes off crumbs of frozen soil from his hat,

black anarchist coat and sandals (with socks).

He walks out into the modern city, mingles

with the bankers, admires the cut of a Paul Smith suit,

reads on a lorry animal byproduct category three

not for human consumption, notes the familiar names

Meanwood, Killingbeck, The Skinner’s Arms,

the new poor doors on a block of flats,

until his troubled coalescence of flesh reforms.

He sprouts wings, develops compound eyes, grows

a thousand tongues that burn a flame in darkness,

squeals like the vivisectionist’s rabbit, talks

to himself and others, no longer friendly but alone:

I assert the dignity of human labour, long

for the stroke of sun and a beautiful man.

He chops himself into a thousand pieces to feed

the patch-coated pitman and ironworker long-deceased.

His flaming tongues rain down in a thousand towns,

set light to bins full of chicken wings and lottery tickets.

The smoke writes words across the sky

The rebirth of England cannot come without from you.

All © John Barron


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